Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

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Waterhouse
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Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Waterhouse » Sat Nov 03, 2007 4:09 pm UTC

1) Read a book in a language you already know.
2) Read the same book translated into a language you want to learn.
3) Profit.

I've tried this with some success for a number of languages. I think it's a great way to really get a feeling for certain idiomatic expressions, as well as build vocabulary and grammar all at once. Has anyone tried this?

Example: I've read "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland," so many times that I've internalized the progression of the story and a lot of the dialogue and story text. Then I read "Alice's Abenteuer im Wunderland," and greatly increased my skills in German. It's really an extension of the skill of gaining understanding by context. If one knows most of the meaning of a sentence, one can often guess the meaning of the missing piece. But if one knows the entire meaning of the sentence, albeit in another language, it makes guessing the meaning of all the words and expressions that much easier.

When the "Grinse-Katze" says "Wir sind alle toll hier," to Alice, it leaves little doubt in my mind what all the words mean, at a deep level. I feel that I'm thinking in German.

Sometimes I have both the English and German versions open, along with a dictionary, causing me to feel like I'm reading a trionic text from Angel.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Razzle Storm » Sat Nov 03, 2007 4:32 pm UTC

I've done it, but only with previous knowledge and study of the language. If a language was somewhat related to your native tongue, then it could be a good method. However, what I got from your post was that it could be useful in trying to learn a language just from reading two different books (your language and the one you want to learn), which I think is not a very good method, unless the two languages are closely related. For example, if I had tried to start my Chinese learning just be reading Alice in Wonderland which had been translated, I would fail miserably. However, know that I can actually read Chinese after having studied for a year, I have started reading a novel recently written by a current author, which is definitely a great supplement (and teaches me slang, which is something my teachers don't teach me here).

So I'd say after you already know a little bit in a language, reading a book in that language is a great way to go (like your German example), but if you want to learn a language, just reading a book in your native language, then reading the same book in the language you want to learn is not a good method, unless you can understand and figure out all the grammar/vocabulary/word-use nuances by yourself.

If I misinterpreted your post, I apologize, but that's what it seemed like you were suggesting.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby tiny » Sat Nov 03, 2007 9:01 pm UTC

Interesting idea. I really want to learn French and Spanish, and since I speak English quite well (uh, most of the time) and had French and Latin classes at school I guess it could work. I mean, I read the 'Say something in Spanish'-thread and I could figure out the meaning of about half/a third of it.
I think I'd start with a piece of contemporary children's literature as soon as Uni pulls it's fangs out of my butt cheek again...

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Waterhouse » Sun Nov 04, 2007 8:25 pm UTC

I guess, for me, it's a simple and informal way to learn a little when I have a bit of free time. I find it fun to read a familiar story and rediscover it in a new way. That actually answers your first question of "Warum." Children's literature is a good place to start, although I take your point about it's being contemporary as opposed to something from two centuries ago. You almost lost me on the software metaphor, "aktuell" being a false friend of "actual." Can you recommend some more current books that are available online? One good thing about Alice is that it's free on project Gutenberg.

I don't know of any good children's books in Spanish, but I would recommend short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, which have been translated into several languages.

By the way, are you not a native English speaker? Looks flawless to me.

Let's see if I can get this right:
Why have you chosen 'Alice in Wonderland?' There are books that are much better. The expressions used in 'Alice" are [archaic?] so that you have your own understanding, but if you use the terms you will probably be corrected by native speakers. In effect, you have just installed software that needs more updates to be current.

Ist das recht?

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby tiny » Sun Nov 04, 2007 11:40 pm UTC

Waterhouse wrote:I guess, for me, it's a simple and informal way to learn a little when I have a bit of free time. I find it fun to read a familiar story and rediscover it in a new way.
You have a point there. It's impressive how the language a story is written in can change it's atmosphere - never ever, under no circumstances try to read Anne Rice in German. It's horrible.

Can you recommend some more current books that are available online? One good thing about Alice is that it's free on project Gutenberg.
Hmm... I don't think there are any because of stupid copyright :/
I can recommend two native German authors of children's literature, though: Christine Noestlinger and Michael Ende.
Two of my favourite contemporary children's books that were originally written in English are: 'Gefaehrliche Raeume'/'Dangerous Spaces' by Margaret Mahy (it's fantasy/mystery) and 'Hilfe, die Herdmanns kommen'/'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' by Barbara Robinson (hilarious).

I don't know of any good children's books in Spanish, but I would recommend short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, which have been translated into several languages.
Thanks for the tip. I'll put that on my whishlist for xmas.

By the way, are you not a native English speaker? Looks flawless to me.
*g* I feel flattered. My native language is German. I learned English at school, though, for about nine years, and had extended classes for the last two years of this time, plus I surf mostly English websites and partly registered the XKCD fora to use English actively again.

Let's see if I can get this right:
Why have you chosen 'Alice in Wonderland?' There are books that are much better. The expressions used in 'Alice" are [archaic?] so that you have your own understanding, but if you use the terms you will probably be corrected by native speakers. In effect, you have just installed software that needs more updates to be current.
Ist das recht?
:) Doesn't look bad.
Hehe, now I translate it myself and you can correct my English.
Why did you choose 'Alice in Wonderland'? There are certainly more books that you know very well. Some of the terms used in 'Alice' are quite old, which means you aquired some knowledge that you'll be able to apply, but you'll probably be corrected by native speakers. So the bottom line is that you downloaded software that will need a number of updates until it's up to date.
(dict.leo.org helped me with the vocabulary :-))
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Jack21222 » Mon Nov 05, 2007 2:27 am UTC

If you're religious, you could pick translations of your religion's holy book.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Waterhouse » Tue Nov 06, 2007 1:12 am UTC

tiny wrote:... Doesn't look bad.

Thanks

tiny wrote:...Hehe, now I translate it myself and you can correct my English.
Why did you choose 'Alice in Wonderland'? There are certainly more books that you know very well. Some of the terms used in 'Alice' are quite old, which means you aquired some knowledge that you'll be able to apply, but you'll probably be corrected by native speakers. So the bottom line is that you downloaded software that will need a number of updates until it's up to date.
(dict.leo.org helped me with the vocabulary :-))


Not bad at all.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby liza » Wed Nov 07, 2007 3:32 am UTC

I used to play the Sims (yes, yes, I know :roll:), but around a month in I decided to change the language to French. I adapted quickly because I needed to know what I was instructing my Sims to do. Immersion method, but in a very limited way. Plus, you learn colloquialisms, strange words, and turns of phrase left out of most phrase books :)

Also, my friend learned enough Korean to suffice when her MP3 player came with it as its default language.

So yes, I can relate to this method and I enjoy it, if in a modified way.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby apricity » Wed Nov 07, 2007 4:45 am UTC

This is why I desperately need to buy Harry Potter in Italian.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Razzle Storm » Wed Nov 07, 2007 5:21 am UTC

liza wrote:I used to play the Sims (yes, yes, I know :roll:), but around a month in I decided to change the language to French. I adapted quickly because I needed to know what I was instructing my Sims to do. Immersion method, but in a very limited way. Plus, you learn colloquialisms, strange words, and turns of phrase left out of most phrase books :)

Also, my friend learned enough Korean to suffice when her MP3 player came with it as its default language.

So yes, I can relate to this method and I enjoy it, if in a modified way.


So can you carry out a conversation with a French person, and do you know how to use all those strange words you learned (the grammar of them and everything)? Also, what do you mean your friend learned enough Korean "to suffice"? Meaning that thanks to her MP3 player being in Korean, her language skill was enough to let her at least not starve to death if she went to Korea, or what?

Yes, reading books helps a lot with adding vocabulary and learning new grammar, but only after you already know some of the language. Learning a language just from reading the translation of a book isn't the best way to go, in my opinion. There are words and grammar that will be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to re-use when you want to say them with a native speaker.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby liza » Wed Nov 07, 2007 5:58 am UTC

Razzle Storm wrote:So can you carry out a conversation with a French person, and do you know how to use all those strange words you learned (the grammar of them and everything)? Also, what do you mean your friend learned enough Korean "to suffice"? Meaning that thanks to her MP3 player being in Korean, her language skill was enough to let her at least not starve to death if she went to Korea, or what?

I can carry out a rudimentary conversation in French, but that's because I've gotten outside instruction. The new vocab is typically used in a variety of contexts, so I think I could use most of them correctly, or at least to the point where I'm understandable. I meant my friend learned enough Korean to work everything on her device; the characters v. Roman alphabet prevented her from being able to say anything. She got an idea of some simple rules of grammar too. So not too practical, but still, she learned.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Eoin » Thu Nov 08, 2007 6:17 pm UTC

This is something I've been planning to do for the last year or so. Whenever I've been in a non-English speaking country since I've picked up second -hand copies of The Lord of the Rings. So far I have the French and Italian versions sitting on my bookshelf. There may come a time in the distance future when I actually start to attempt to read them, but for the moment they look pretty.

I have read the first Harry Potter book in a non-English language, but it was in Irish so it doesn't really count.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:22 pm UTC

Eoin wrote:I have read the first Harry Potter book in a non-English language, but it was in Irish so it doesn't really count.

Why does Irish not count?

And Harry Potter, especially the first couple, is supposed to be a very good book to read in translation. The grammar is very good, all the tenses are used, there aren't too many strange figures of speech. I think for that very reason it has been translated into Classical Greek and Latin in addition to other living languages.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Eoin » Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:45 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Why does Irish not count?


I'm from Ireland, which is technically a bilingual country, and so Irish is still my 'mother tongue'. Like the majority of the country, I don't really know that much Irish, but since its not foreign I'm not sure it counts in this context.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Waterhouse » Sat Nov 10, 2007 3:08 am UTC

Razzle Storm wrote:
liza wrote:I used to play the Sims (yes, yes, I know :roll:), but around a month in I decided to change the language to French. I adapted quickly because I needed to know what I was instructing my Sims to do. Immersion method, but in a very limited way. Plus, you learn colloquialisms, strange words, and turns of phrase left out of most phrase books :)

Also, my friend learned enough Korean to suffice when her MP3 player came with it as its default language.

So yes, I can relate to this method and I enjoy it, if in a modified way.


So can you carry out a conversation with a French person, and do you know how to use all those strange words you learned (the grammar of them and everything)? Also, what do you mean your friend learned enough Korean "to suffice"? Meaning that thanks to her MP3 player being in Korean, her language skill was enough to let her at least not starve to death if she went to Korea, or what?

Yes, reading books helps a lot with adding vocabulary and learning new grammar, but only after you already know some of the language. Learning a language just from reading the translation of a book isn't the best way to go, in my opinion. There are words and grammar that will be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to re-use when you want to say them with a native speaker.


You seem keen on pointing out that this isn't the best way to learn a new language. I don't think that anyone is suggesting that. Those are just windmills, senior.

I'm saying that this is something that I've enjoyed doing and found some success with.

Also, when I say that my German was greatly improved, I don't mean that I hadn't had any to begin with. I couldn't very well have more if I hadn't had any yet, though Some would disagree.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby JayDee » Sat Nov 10, 2007 3:23 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:And Harry Potter, especially the first couple, is supposed to be a very good book to read in translation. The grammar is very good, all the tenses are used, there aren't too many strange figures of speech. I think for that very reason it has been translated into Classical Greek and Latin in addition to other living languages.

Some of the kids in my Classical Greek class at uni are pressing to have Harry Potter used as the text. And a friend of mine bought it in Latin when he decided to teach himself. He did buy a grammer book and the like as well, I should add.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby damienthebloody » Sat Nov 10, 2007 11:47 pm UTC

The thing with reading translations of works is that they can be particularly influenced by the original language, depending on the quality of translation. So i would suggest that it is generally a good idea for an English speaking learner of German to read Kafka in English, and then in German, rather than reading an English text and then reading a translation.

That said, for French, Aventures d'Alice au Pays des Merveilles is notable in the efforts made by the translator to create something that 'feels' authentically French. I would assume the same can be said for the German (Es brillig war...).
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Razzle Storm » Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:21 am UTC

Waterhouse wrote:
Razzle Storm wrote:
liza wrote:I used to play the Sims (yes, yes, I know :roll:), but around a month in I decided to change the language to French. I adapted quickly because I needed to know what I was instructing my Sims to do. Immersion method, but in a very limited way. Plus, you learn colloquialisms, strange words, and turns of phrase left out of most phrase books :)

Also, my friend learned enough Korean to suffice when her MP3 player came with it as its default language.

So yes, I can relate to this method and I enjoy it, if in a modified way.


So can you carry out a conversation with a French person, and do you know how to use all those strange words you learned (the grammar of them and everything)? Also, what do you mean your friend learned enough Korean "to suffice"? Meaning that thanks to her MP3 player being in Korean, her language skill was enough to let her at least not starve to death if she went to Korea, or what?

Yes, reading books helps a lot with adding vocabulary and learning new grammar, but only after you already know some of the language. Learning a language just from reading the translation of a book isn't the best way to go, in my opinion. There are words and grammar that will be difficult to understand, and even more difficult to re-use when you want to say them with a native speaker.


You seem keen on pointing out that this isn't the best way to learn a new language. I don't think that anyone is suggesting that. Those are just windmills, senior.

I'm saying that this is something that I've enjoyed doing and found some success with.

Also, when I say that my German was greatly improved, I don't mean that I hadn't had any to begin with. I couldn't very well have more if I hadn't had any yet, though Some would disagree.


Sorry, in your initial post, it seemed (to me at least) that that's what you were suggesting.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Waterhouse » Sun Nov 11, 2007 2:46 pm UTC

@Razzle Storm:
No problem.

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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby Engma » Wed Nov 14, 2007 4:50 am UTC

I've never hread of this before. I mean, I've seen books that have the English on one page and the translation on the other, which is interesting.

I've also see a book that had the old German on one side and the Modern German on the other...that was a trip.

I'm not sure how well this would work for all languages, though. I think you'd have to have a fairly good understanding of, say, Sanskrit before attempting to do that; Sanskrit just has such odd (or freakishly efficient) ways of expressing things, that it might not work.

Maybe I should try that with a German version of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings...

hmm...I'm intrigued.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby IronyandParadox » Wed Nov 21, 2007 2:09 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:And Harry Potter, especially the first couple, is supposed to be a very good book to read in translation. The grammar is very good, all the tenses are used, there aren't too many strange figures of speech. I think for that very reason it has been translated into Classical Greek and Latin in addition to other living languages.


I've read some of the Latin version. It's actually helped me with my vocabulary and grammar a surprising amount. A passage even came up on a state-wide test once.
Same deal with The Little Prince. It's shorter and a lot less intimidating, so I've finished it. =D They're nice, as a supplement. I wish people bothered translating popular books into dead languages. Maybe it wouldn't really be practical, but they'd sure be useful for students.
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Re: Learning Language by Reading a Translation of a Known Text

Postby AKADriver » Tue Dec 04, 2007 10:19 pm UTC

Jack21222 wrote:If you're religious, you could pick translations of your religion's holy book.


This is actually a good idea even if you're not religious. The Bible is neatly organized in a way that Book X, Chapter Y is going to be the same very short story in every language, and the verse numbers will line up almost exactly, as well.

The one caveat is that, in contrast to modern novels, holy books often use very formal, "reverent" language. In a Korean bible you'll find verbs ending in "-나이다 (-naida)" which will only be of use to you if someone decides to reinstate the Joseon monarchy.


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